What About Those Who Insist Their Gods Are Real? A Policy Statement.

Though I generally try to avoid engaging with them, there are those in the broader Pagan community who are quite adamant that their gods are real and that anyone who doesn’t think so isn’t a Pagan. Some of them feel the need to rail at people like Atheopagans and call for our expulsion from Pagan community. So I thought I would spell out my exact orientation to such folk, so my position is clear.

Primarily, my inclination is to ignore them. They’re wrong, but they’re entitled to their opinions. If their beliefs make them happy, great. Though given the sour and caustic tone of some of them, there is reason to doubt this is the case.

I don’t care that other Pagans believe in gods. They’re welcome to do so, in my book, even though I believe that is in the process of dying out.

When it comes to the bigotry factor, however—the suggestion that there is something wrong with us because of what we believe and practice, or that it’s “not a real religion”— I will stick up strongly for our rights both to what we do and believe and to belong in both Pagan and atheistic communities. My only reason for engagement with strident god-believers who refuse to live and let live is in insisting that mine is a religion as well, and I have a right both to call it one and to a place in community. I have never argued that they have no place there, and this is a fundamental difference in values between us: inclusivity vs. exclusivity on the basis of cosmology and/or praxis.

I do not feel the need to try to establish that at some level, we are all talking about the same thing using different labels. We aren’t. We have a fundamental cosmological disagreement. “Real” for purposes of my writing means “existing in some sense external to the mind”. The memory of my mother, therefore, is not “real”, while, when she was alive, my mother was real.

Rocks are real. Gods are not. So the evidence suggests, and so I believe.

Do ideas “exist” in some sense? Well, certainly. But certain ideas are not privileged with “reality” more than any others. Zeus has exactly the same amount of real existence as does Wilbur the Pig or Gandalf. They are memes, not things or persons.

There are those who disagree with these ideas and will be angered to read them. My suggestion for them is simple: go away. Read something else. I don’t write this blog for you; I write it for those of largely similar views, so that together, we can develop and explore our Atheopagan spirituality.

I hope this clarifies where I stand.

Real Magic

Reality. It’s filled with marvels!

It is not, however, filled with every marvel we can imagine. There are no dragons, nor unicorns. There are no pixies or fairies. And there is no “magic” in the sense of spellcasting, “charging” items with “power” or “energy”, hexes, curses, or otherwise affecting the course of events without material cause.

Just as there are no gods, there is no magic. If we soberly consider the evidence, the conclusion is inevitable.

Except…well, wait a minute.

When a ritual adds to your confidence and performance in a job interview, is that magic? When a ceremony breaks open longheld rage and transmutes it to grief and healing? What about when a wedding binds two people to one another before their communities and loved ones?

Are not these things “magical”, in the sense that they surprise and delight us with effects psychological and meaningful?

Well, certainly they are.

Atheopagans can do magic just as effectively as anyone else…which is to say, not at all effectively. Except insofar as our “spellwork” is intended to change our own attitudes, emotions, and behaviors.

But for those purposes, ritual is powerful technology for transforming the mind.

Be warned: don’t expect your supernaturalist friends to get this. For whatever reasons, they subscribe to belief in phenomena for which there is little to no scientific evidence. There’s no point in arguing, so don’t.

Ritual “spellcasting” in Atheopaganism can include many of the elements that come to mind when you think of such things:  the use of ritual tools, candle “magic”, sacred/”magical” symbols and sigils, etc. I find that my rituals of intention, which is what I call them, bring me into a powerfully Present trance state of calm, intent focus and concentration on the goal.

But these goals are very specifically about the changes in me that I am working to bring about. I don’t “do a spell to get a job”—that’s useless. I will do a ritual to align myself in all ways with an effective and successful job search. This means that the ritual begins the work of getting a job, rather than ending it. It means I am tasked to act by the ritual itself.

Atheopaganism is a path of effort and clarity. We don’t pretend that our religion will give us an afterlife, nor  powerful Entities with whom to ally, nor magical powers. Ours is life in this world, with its constraints, its challenges, its injustices…and its magnificence, its opportunity and its joy.

It is enough. The real kind of “magic” we can make is magical enough. The real powers and forces of the world are enough. The glorious stars, the deep-rooted trees, the shining faces of our community are more than enough.

Children in Circle

Recently, there has been some discussion in the Pagan blogosphere about children in ritual circle: whether and when they belong there, what the considerations are.

Those of us with experience circling in Pagan ritual know that this can be an issue. A crying baby, an ebullient toddler, a sullen, checked-out teenager who just stands there and refuses to participate…these are all distractions that can make it hard for a ritual to bring participants into the Ritual State* (also known as Presence, Trance, or Flow).

I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve been in rituals that were pretty much ruined for me by kids. I’ve also been in rituals where the presence of children has been a delight, an adorable reminder that our religion is a multi-generational thing; that, though most of today’s Pagans are converts in adulthood, this will not be true in future decades.

My feelings about disruptive children in circle have varied widely. Sometimes I’ve felt stabs of impatience. Sometimes I’ve felt a sinking disappointment that a moment which could have been fervent and meaningful has been scrambled by childish cries or banter.

And then, as I said, there have been the waves of fond warmth.

When I feel kindness and indulgence and familial about children’s inappropriate behavior in circle, it is because I feel connected with them in community. Because I understand that they are just doing what they have to do at their stage of development, and I feel caring for them.

And that’s why we must continue—most of the time, anyway—to indulge children in our circles. Even if it sometimes diminishes our own experience. Because a central aspect of why we circle is to build connection with one another: to create, deepen and grow community.

Recently, I’ve begun work on organizing Moon Meet, the first Pagan gathering specifically for nontheist Pagans and those who are interested in what we do. I’m excited about it, and for exactly the same reason I don’t get upset at children doing what children do when I’m in circle: because it will build community. And that’s a big chunk of what religion generally—and our religion specifically—is about.

Yes, there are times when its inappropriate to have minors at a ritual. When that’s the case, don’t have them there. In some cases, it may be optimal to have separate activities for children. But when celebrating most reasons for rituals, I say let ’em stay if they want to. Parents, carry out your responsibility to shepherd them, but don’t feel shame when they act like the children they are. Goes with the territory.

We should let our kids turn the wheel of the year with us. Let them be a part of naming ceremonies and weddings and memorials with us.

Who knows? Perhaps many or most of them won’t want to be Pagans when they’re old enough to choose.

But in my experience, most of them will. And the community will grow, and healthy values will spread. The world will be a better place.

And by the time they’re grown, they’ll be terrific ritualists.

It’s not about us. It’s about something larger.

It’s about the future.



*For more about the Ritual State, see the Atheopagan Ritual Primer.